Police union boycotts 13 local businesses
March 26, 2011LITTLETON- One of the two municipal unions active in Littleton has called for a boycott of 13 local businesses in the wake of what they see as political positioning that puts public safety at risk.
"These businesses' activities are nothing more than their latest attempt to pit neighbor against neighbor so that businesses can profit," said State Employees Association (SEA) of New Hampshire President Diana Lacey in a union newsletter. The SEA counts nine local police officers in its membership. "The costs that they complain about are the price of public safety and the preservation of human life and property; the SEA does not believe those things are for sale. Pursuing profits in lieu of these critical public services is recklessly dangerous."
The boycott is specifically in response to several flyers that went out in the days leading up to the town vote, some of which had landlords encouraging their tenants to help keep rents low by voting for the proposed budget, which was $745,000 lower than the default and would call for the elimination of some positions.
Frank Porfido was one of the landlords who sent out a flyer to his tenants, and Porfido's Market and Deli is one of the businesses named in the boycott.
"We know how difficult these times are. We are trying everything to not have to raise rents. Fuel and taxes gave taken dramatic increases over the past 12 months. We have no control over these expenses. We do have a chance to stabilize the property tax expense. We ask you to help us keep the rents down," read the flyer before urging tenants to vote "yes" on both the town and school budgets, and "no" on proposed fees.
Porfido maintains that the flyer was not unlike any of the other seasonal flyers he sends out to tenants, informing them of potential upcoming costs and solutions. In the fall, said Porfido, he suggests monitoring the thermostat closely to keep heating costs down.
Herb Lahout, of Lahout's Apartments and Rentals sent out a similar flyer, reading, "We urge you to vote 'yes' on Article 16 and keep property taxes lower and your rents [afford]able." It included information about when, where, and how to vote.
Lacey said Monday that, though part of a larger campaign on the part of business owner-organized group Littleton Citizens for Growth with Common Sense to keep taxes low no matter what the cost, these flyers were a step too far. She said public safety was even more important during tough economic times, and that the town should not be putting more people in the unemployment line.
On Monday, Porfido called the boycott a "black eye for Littleton."
"I'm not concerned with my business at all; I'm concerned with the nastiness," said Porfido who feels as though blame is being taken out on the businesses for something that was voted on and desired by the people. "I've lived in this town my entire life, and the Porfidos were always heroes of the police department. I don't know how we got to be here." Porfido said it would take a lot for him to call the police now
Foto Factory Owner Art Tighe expressed similar concerns. His business was also on the list. Tighe said the event allows him "to have no trust or faith in our Littleton Police Department," adding his feelings might be different were this a standalone event. Tighe refers to a series of attacks by those associated with the police department against those who supported the proposed budget. The first, a February email from Sharon Craigie – part of the Volunteers in Police Service program – asked local businesses to state whether or not they were in support of the proposed budget.
"I would love to continue to shop locally, but would find it hard to support a business who is in favor of this drastic cut," read Craigie's email, implying a boycott similar to the one put into effect by SEA.
"It's really hard to see the follow through to Sharon Craigie's email," said Tighe. "It's greatly disappointing to me that the Littleton Police Department reached out to the union with only one officer leaving their department."
The second event occurred shortly after the vote when Officer Scott Moodie posted a "hate list" on his Facebook Profile Page. The list included four well-known supporters of the proposed budget (Brien Ward, Frank Porfido, Art Tighe, and Steve Kelley), described through profanity-laden insults, in the top four positions, above Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.
"I'm concerned about my public safety," said Tighe. "Furthmore, I question [the police department's] integrity and professionalism.
In a letter to the editor, Gold House Owner Jim Sourkladakis wonders "if we the townspeople can hire an outside Police department who are grateful for things past and understanding of hard economic times, who will recognize that the people can no longer financially afford to have top of the line everything."
"The Littleton Police have publicly waged war on the people and businesses who can't afford to give them a blank check," wrote Sourkladakis.
Police Chief Paul Smith did not return calls for comment throughout the afternoon and evening.
In addition to aforementioned businesses, the list of those boycotted includes: Hadlock Insurance Group, Arrow Express Lube and Auto Care, Darrell A. Louis Insurance, WLTN 96.7, Attorney Brien Ward, Moore Dam Auto, Chutters, and MacKenzie Auto Parts.
Porfido expressed concern not for his business, but for the smaller, less-established businesses on the list. "I've been here a long time and I'll be fine, but I'm worried about some of the other businesses," said Porfido. "It's a sad day for Littleton."
The vote was taken by the SEA Board of Directors, composed of union members, on March 10 – two days following the town vote, and one day following the selectmen's announcement of what specific layoffs would be made, which included one police officer. The SEA has 8,000 members statewide and 40,000 if retired members and spouses are included, said Lacey.
Lacey said though the union has instituted boycotts at the national level, it is extremely rare to do so at the local level as such action usually comes from poor treatment of companies that generally only occurs in the largest companies.
"We don't want to hurt small businesses," said Lacey, adding that they work hard to develop job growth in the North Country. "What we're concerned about is the concept that we can place a city at risk, at harm, because a business wants to pay less taxes."
Labor costs are being blamed for raising taxes, but the blame should be placed at the legislative level, said Lacey. It is Congress that makes the choices about how the state should be structured. Without a sales or income tax, she said, much of the weight for funding budgets falls on the property tax – and the property tax payer. This point was neglected by these businesses during the budget season, said Lacey, as was the fact that the pension system has been under-funded at the state level for the past 20 years – an issue that is catching up with the state now.
"The public workers in the state tend to be very loyal customers," said Lacey. "To have businesses turn their backs on us is a huge thing."
Selectman Marghie Seymour weighed in on the boycott Monday, calling it "another of those unforeseen consequences of the vote."
Seymour defended the unions, noting that they negotiated their pay and benefits in good faith, and that police officers and firefighters do jobs that no one else wants to do and should receive reasonable compensation.
"People who are making a lot more money than people in the unions are complaining about how much they make," said Seymour. "No one was complaining a few years ago when the economy was doing better."
Seymour put the conflict in the context of the anti-union mood that's sweeping the nation.
"It's not just Littleton," she said. "It's the time our society is in."